At around this time every year we update the list of all those bird species recorded in the Channel Islands. Records will have been verified by each island’s ornithological committees. Where once birds may have been shot to confirm ID, records of new species and rarities became submitted through detailed notes and, today, they are often shown to us in high quality photos that leave little doubt about identification. We still like the notes.
Interestingly, while our overall bird list and those of the islands continue to increase, there have also been some species lost. We are always revising our opinions and, sometimes, we learn more about a species and question older records’ validity. Jersey’s first black-eared (in 1980) was scrubbed when we started to consider that it had almost certainly been a desert wheatear but that the observer was no longer confident. We also lose species to taxonomic splits.
As bird taxonomy becomes more and more detailed through use of some very fine, molecular level, ways of determining differences between species, we are often seeing traditional sub-species ‘elevated’ to species level. Then, that warbler for instance that we recorded but didn’t get a photo of may become several different warblers. But, which one was ours? Did we get sufficient detail noted to know which it was? You’ll see the problem in the full list. Especially in the warblers!
We also, well those of us of a certain age, grew up with a very set, long-established, view of the order that species occur in. We start with divers and grebes and end with crows. Well, actually that went out years ago as we learn more about relationships between birds and can even age when particular groups evolved. As a duck enthusiast, I’m pleased that they now rightly start off the CI List. They followed the pheasant, partridges and quail last year. So, species you are looking for may not always be where you expect them. They may also not be with old friends in the list and may have new company – have you got used to hawks and falcons not being related? Or that falcons and shrikes are next to each other in the list? And that grebes and divers aren’t closely related, and that crows are nowhere near the end?
So, back to the updated list. After being restricted to home over most of 2020, we began to travel again in 2021. However, the birds at home were still a draw it seems and records came in in good numbers.
We had two additions to the list which strangely went up by five! Guernsey’s Bonaparte’s gull in February and March and an October eastern olivaceous warbler in Jersey were the proper additions. The other increases came from re-organising warblers. However, as some of the older records of Bonelli’s and subalpine warbler are not identified to newer species, the list total could go down again in future.
Other notable birds were first ruddy shelduck and green-winged teal in Jersey (the former most likely from the establishing population in northern Europe) and a first rustic bunting in Alderney. Alderney saw their first corn crake in 43 years and first stone curlew in 134 years! Remarkably Alderney also saw their fourth great bustard in seven years, all from the UK reintroduction project, and the only bustards (of two European species) likely to have enjoyed their visit to the Channel Islands!
Breeding species continue to have mixed fortunes but it is very pleasing to note that short-eared owl bred in Guernsey and nightjars bred for a second year in Jersey.
And the individual islands’ totals? Jersey now has 340 recorded species, Guernsey 331, Alderney 308 and Sark 226.
The fifth edition of Birds of Conservation Concern (BoCC) has been published. Undertaken every five years, BoCC covers the population status of birds regularly found in the UK, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man to provide an up-to-date assessment of conservation priorities. This fifth review has assessed a total of 246 species and placed them onto one of three lists, red, amber or green, according to their level of conservation concern (see RSPB for explanation of categories). 52 species are red-listed (up from 40 at the previous review), 126 are amber-listed (previously 121) and 68 are green-listed (down from 86).
Seven quantitative criteria have been used to assess the population status of each species and to place it on the red, amber or green list: global conservation status, recent decline, historical decline, European conservation status, rare breeders, localised species and international importance.
A parallel exercise was undertaken to assess the extinction risk of all bird species for Great Britain (the geographical area at which all other taxa are assessed) using the criteria and protocols established globally by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This resulted in the assessment of 235 regularly occurring species (breeding or wintering or both), the total number assessed differing slightly from BOCC5 due to different rules on the inclusion of scarce breeders and colonisation patterns. The results of this second IUCN assessment (IUCN2) are provided in the same paper as BOCC5.
How the lists are decided
The BOCC assessment is based on the most up-to-date evidence available. Criteria include conservation status at global and European levels and, within the UK: historical decline, trends in population and range, rarity, localised distribution and international importance. Golden oriole (previously Red-listed but which has not bred in the UK since 2009) now joins a Black List of eight other species now considered to have ceased breeding in the UK (including serin, Temminck’s stint and the once widespread wryneck). Four new species that have more recently become sufficiently established, as well as yellow-browed warbler (no longer considered a scarce migrant), were assessed by BOCC5 – little bittern, cattle egret, great white egret and black-winged stilt – and all went onto the Amber list due to criteria related to scarcity and localisation.
The IUCN assessment process uses the same underlying data on population trends and population size but the time periods over which change is assessed differs and is linked to generation length and also population size. With their focus on extinction risk, the IUCN assessments also consider the potential for populations in Great Britain to be rescued by immigration from increasing populations in surrounding geographical areas.
The growing Red List
This update shows that the UK’s bird species are increasingly at risk, with the Red List growing from 67 to 70. By contrast, the first Red List, published in 1996, had only 36 species. Eleven species have been Red-listed for the first time in 2021, six due to worsening declines in breeding populations (greenfinch, swift, house martin, ptarmigan, purple sandpiper and Montagu’s harrier), four due to worsening declines in non-breeding wintering populations (Bewick’s swan, goldeneye, smew and dunlin) and one (Leach’s storm-petrel) because it is assessed according to IUCN criteria as Globally Vulnerable, and due to evidence of severe declines since 2000 based on new surveys on St Kilda, which holds more than 90% of the UK’s populations. The evidence for the changes in the other species come from the UK’s key monitoring schemes such as BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) for terrestrial birds, the BTO/RSPB/JNCC Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) for wintering populations and the Rare Breeding Bird Panel (RBBP) for scarce breeding species such as purple sandpiper.
From green to red
Two species moved directly from the Green to Red List: greenfinch and ptarmigan. Increasingly severe declines in greenfinch numbers have been reported in BBS reports for more than a decade, and the initial regional pattern of declines was associated with outbreaks of the disease Trichomonosis. This disease of the digestive tract is widespread in greenfinch populations across Europe and may also be starting to affect other species such as collared dove, sparrowhawk and chaffinch.
The IUCN assessment resulted in 108 (46%) of regularly occurring species being assessed as threatened with extinction in Great Britain, meaning that their population status was classed as Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable, as opposed to Near Threatened or of Least Concern. Of those 108 species, 21 were considered Critically Endangered, 41 Endangered and 46 Vulnerable. There is considerable overlap between the lists but unlike the Red List in BOCC5, IUCN2 highlights the vulnerability of some stable but small and hence vulnerable populations as well as declines in species over much shorter recent time periods, as seen for chaffinch and swallow.
What kinds of birds are in the most trouble?
How does the Red List break down across habitats or taxonomic groupings? Unlike previous BOCC assessments, where there was a clearer pattern of influx to the Red List, with upland and woodland species joining the already listed farmland species, this update is more of a mixed bag. However, the worsening status of Afro-Palearctic migrants continues with two aerial insectivores – swift and house martin – joining other migrants such as cuckoo and nightingale on the Red List. Although deteriorating conditions on the wintering grounds and on stopover sites are likely factors, the reliance of many long-distance migrants on insects and other invertebrates suggests that declines in those could also play a role.
The other group joining the Red List also encompasses migrants, in this case, wintering wildfowl and waders that breed at higher latitudes and to the east, but winter in the UK. Climate change and milder winters in regions such as the Baltic Sea have resulted in many of these species being less likely to migrate as far west and south as the UK, in a pattern termed ‘short-stopping’. This is likely the case for Red List newcomers dunlin and smew, but can be further complicated by broader declines in populations, as is known for the Eastern flyway populations of Bewick’s swan.
Can conservation action work?
There is also better news. In addition to white-tailed eagle, which no longer qualifies for ‘historical decline’ thanks to further recovery of the breeding population and intense conservation efforts, five previously Red-listed species (pied flycatcher, song thrush, black redstart, grey wagtail and redwing) have shown modest but sufficient improvements in breeding population status to have moved from Red to Amber. Red grouse, mute swan and kingfisher also move from the Amber to Green. Overall, the Amber List has increased from 96 in BOCC4 to 103 in BOCC5, this difference reflecting both negative (moves to the Red List) and positive changes (moves to the Green List). The Green list, now 72 species long, includes a range of common garden species such as blue tit, blackbird and robin, and saw a net loss of nine species since BOCC4.
The full lists are available in the Birds of Conservation Concern 5 – Summary leaflethere and the full paper The status of our bird populations: the fifth Birds of Conservation Concern in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man and second IUCN Red List assessment of extinction risk for Great Britainhere